Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Developing and Disseminating a Foodprint Tool to Raise Awareness about Healthy and Environmentally Conscious Food Choices

Academic journal article Sustainability : Science, Practice, & Policy

Developing and Disseminating a Foodprint Tool to Raise Awareness about Healthy and Environmentally Conscious Food Choices

Article excerpt


Geographical Boundaries of Food Production

In recent decades, researchers have proposed several indicators to characterize the environmental impact of cities, countries, and populations. Though already in use in the early 1920s, the concept of a foodshed (Hedden, 1929; Peters et al. 2009b), introduced to designate a rural territory structured around supplying a city with agricultural products, provides a useful framework for analyzing the local production capacity of individual cities (Peters et al. 2009a). European and North American cities and their surrounding areas are characterized by concentric rings of farming activity devoted to the city's food supply, beginning with market gardening and dairy farming, followed by forestry, cereal production, and finally cattle farming, as Von Thünen described in 1826 (Billen et al. 2012). These scientists developed various methods for mapping and assessing potential foodsheds, meaning land areas that could theoretically feed urban centers. The resultant approaches evaluated how the location of food production in relation to its consumption affected the environment and the vulnerability of the overall food system (Peters et al. 2009b). In today's increasingly globalized world, the foodsheds of European and North American cities are coming under pressure, not least from conflicting land uses, such as suburbanization, leisure areas, and natural parks.

Recent years have seen the development of a number of indicators to assess the global scarcity of land, water, and energy. For instance, Wackernagel & Rees (1996) developed the now classic concept of the ecological footprint (EF) based on a comprehensive estimate of the total productive area required to sustainably produce the resources consumed by a city, given the current state of agricultural technology, as expressed in "global hectare equivalent" units. Hoekstra & Chapagain (2004) introduced a method for calculating water footprints, representing all direct and indirect water use associated with urban consumption of commodities. In turn, the carbon footprint (Wiedmann & Minx, 2008) quantifies the overall emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) resulting from urban activities, while the nitrogen footprint (Leach et al. 2012) relates to the corresponding introduction of reactive nitrogen into the biosphere (Billen et al. 2012). In this study, we use the EF as a means of representing the geographical and ecological boundaries of food production.

The Problem: Our Footprint Exceeds Available Biocapacity

The capacity of the Earth--our ecological system--is under pressure. There is strong scientific evidence that we have surpassed the limits of climate change and biodiversity and changes in land use are no longer within the boundaries of what is safe for the planet (Rockström et al. 2009). A large share of the human EF is attributable to our food production and approximately one third of the human impact on climate and land use is related to our diet and the food chain (Dutilh & Kramer, 2000; Tukker et al. 2006; Garnett, 2011). These effects are larger than the impacts of leisure, housing, and labor (Vringer et al. 2010). Climate change mitigation policies tend to focus on the energy sector, paying the livestock sector surprisingly little attention, despite the fact that the latter accounts for 18% of worldwide GHG emissions and 80% of total anthropogenic land use (Stehfest et al. 2009). The problem is that the per capita EF of food, or "foodprint," in many developed countries, including the Netherlands, is higher than the world average and is higher than the foodprint technically available on a global scale. It is even higher than the total worldwide per capita available biological capacity for food, shelter, mobility, goods, and services combined (GFN, 2010).

The Footprint is Dominated by Personal Food Choices

The EF is largely determined by food consumption and personal dietary choices. …

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